The sky is clear, spring is in the air: what better than a trip up to Suffolk for a seafood safari, run by Polly of Food Safari. We all met up at the qauyside shop of Pinney's of Orford, to be greeted by Polly and a very tempting array of Suffolk goodies.
Orford is a beautiful town but for the first couple of hours, we viewed it from on board Peter's small fishing boat. The coast here is a complicated mixture of river, creeks and islands; both the Ore and the Alde flow past the town, so it's still a working port though not the sea port of the 12th century. We were heading down the Ore estuary, towards Havergate island.
Peter gave a running commentary about the landscape, then halted the boat to sort out the gill net.
A thoroughly sustainable method of fishing, this net catches fish of the right size by trapping them by the gills. Peter and his sidekick, the silent Gazza, manoeuvred the net into position across the flow of the river.
Then it was time to haul up the lobster pots: the first time they'd seen the surface since last autumn. Peter wasn't very hopeful about seeing any lobsters - it's been a chilly spring for them and they've been slow to wake up from their winter slumbers. But we were lucky...
Peter whisked this lobster upside down to show us that it was a female - it's all a matter of feathery undergarments. But this lady was too small to be a keeper, so she was returned to the deep. Unluckier was this big crab, who was destined for the plate.
We returned to the gill net and hauled in a few herrings, sparklingly fresh. Then it was back to the quayside, and we stopped to admire a load of line-caught cod, landed by an Irish boat. They were being packed off for sale at Ipswich. Our minivan arrived and we headed off to meet Bill Pinney, who's carrying on his family's tradition of rearing oysters and running the smokehouse.
Bill had been dredging for oysters and showed us the different kinds and sizes. His family also runs two fishing boats, and he has strong veiws about our fish stocks: there is plenty of cod out there, he says, and the big problem now is the quota that small fishing vessels are allowed. It seems we're looking after the big fishing enterprises but not the small sustainable ones. So it is okay to eat line-caught cod...especially if you can trace who caught it. Next, we had a look round the wonderfully scented smoke house.
The fish is smoked over whole oak logs, and hanging up here is salmon, trout, eel and mackeral. Yum. By now, I was ravenous. I was ready to eat oak logs if neccessary...but the minibus turned up and it was back to Orford again, to Bill's Butlery Orford Oysterage in the town square.
We were soon facing a fantastic platter of smoked goodies. The smoked prawns and eel were my favourites, and the mustard sauce was a perfect accompaniment. After the main course, there was a chance to try your hand at carving salmon and opening oysters: the two lads who'd come with their restuarant owning parents were clear winners here. Then the puds arrived: a superb sticky toffee sponge for me, and an equally good lemon sponge for others.
The lovely Tony and Susan, who'd ferried me from the station in the morning, very kindly offered to take me back, so there was a chance to pop back to Pinney's shop and stock up on smoked salmon, a lovely fish pate and some of that mustard sauce. All in all, a wonderful day with great company, and a real insight into the production of one of our finest British foods.
Many thanks to Polly, and to Tony and Susan.